Meet a Moon: Dione

Regarding Greek mythology, it seems no one’s really sure who Dione was. Ancient sources contradict each other, and modern scholars think there may have actually been more than one mythical woman who went by that name. But I was able to find out this much: according to Wikipedia, at least one of these Diones was “sometimes associated with water or the sea.”

What that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to Dione, one of Saturn’s moons.

oc24-meet-dione

You sure are, Dione. In fact, I can’t think of a better description for you.

The Waters of Enceladus

Over the last decade or so, one of Saturn’s other moons has become famous for having an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface. That moon is called Enceladus. We know about Enceladus’s water for two reasons:

  • Geysers: Enceladus has a series of cracks (called tiger stripes) in its south polar region, and saltwater shoots out of these cracks at regular intervals.
  • Libration: Enceladus wobbles in place (librates) more than it should. This is best explained by the presence of a layer of liquid separating the moon’s crust from its core.

It’s still a mystery how Enceladus generates enough heat to keep its liquid water from freezing, but at this point, it’s pretty clear the water is there.

The Waters of Dione

Dione doesn’t librate the way Enceladus does, and we haven’t noticed any saltwater geysers, but a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters says Dione might have a subsurface ocean too.

The authors of the paper created a new theoretical model for icy moons, a model which fits precisely with observations of Enceladus. Then they applied this new model to Dione and concluded that Dione should have a subsurface ocean.

This raises two questions that are fairly easily answered.

  • Where are Dione’s geysers?: Dione may not spew saltwater (anymore), but it does have cracks and fissures in its surface, suggesting that it may have had active “tiger stripe” geysers in the past.
  • What about Dione’s libration?: The new model suggests that Dione should librate, but not as much as Enceladus does. The Cassini spacecraft (currently orbiting Saturn) does not have instruments sensitive enough to detect the predicted libration.

So there you have it. According to at least one theoretical model, Dione should have a subsurface ocean, but we cannot yet confirm that it does. And it’ll probably be awhile before we can send a new spacecraft to Saturn to find out one way or another.

But hey, how appropriate is it that we named this moon, which might have a subsurface ocean, depending on your theoretical model, after a mythical figure that might sometimes have been associated with water, depending on which ancient sources your reading!

6 Responses to Meet a Moon: Dione

  1. With all of these subsurface oceans in the outer solar system, it’s going to be a major bummer if we don’t find some kind of life in at least one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Pailly says:

      It sure will. But even if we find nothing, that’s still a fascinating discovery.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Scott Levine says:

        It’ll be disappointing, but it’ll just help push us toward other discoveries. What I mean is maybe we’ll learn there’s something atomospheric that life needs, not just something in the water. Even without life, there’s still loads we can learn about where life came from. Quit being a wet blanket (ug… sorry)! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • James Pailly says:

        Oh yes, I agree. If we can’t find life on any of these icy moons, then we have to think about what Earth has that all these other places don’t. I am optimistic, though, that we’ll find life of some kind in one of these subsurface oceans. I’d be far more surprised if we didn’t.

        I’d also like to mention that wet blankets require the presence of liquid water, so at least we’re finding more places where wet blankets could exist. 😉

        Like

  2. chemistken says:

    I love how astronomers come up with all these great names for the stuff they find. Gives them a certain amount of class.

    Liked by 1 person

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